no agent? no problem, transit the panama canal

No Agent? No Problem! Transit The Panama Canal

Every sailor wanting to go from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific (or vice versa) has two options. Take on Cape Horn or transit the Panama Canal (well, technically you can ship your boat but that’s not sailing).

Now, before we go diving into these two options its important to remind ourselves where we are as sailors.

We’ve been sailing for less than two years and only since arriving in Panama have we earned our first swallow. (Sailors earn a swallow tattoo for every 5,000 nautical miles traveled. The circumference of the earth is 21,639 nautical miles. That’s about 4 swallow.)

Ok, back to those two options…

Option One – Cape Horn

Rounding Cape Horn is to sailing what Mount Everest is to hiking. It’s not for newbies. The westerly winds are aptly named the “furious fifties”. It’s known for being a sailor’s graveyard because of the strong winds, currents, big waves and icebergs. We’re not ready to dodge icebergs yet.

Option Two – Panama Canal

The Canal was built across Panama to save ships from having to go all the way around Cape Horn. But, it’s more than a nautical shortcut from one ocean to another. It’s a historic man made engineering marvel. Ships travel up 85 feet above sea level through a series of massive, seven foot thick lock doors. Over 15,000 ships make the crossing between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans each year. But, only a small percentage of those are small, non-commercial vessels like ours. While transiting the canal is no Cape Horn, it’s still a big deal.

Making the decision to transit the canal was the easy part. Actually transiting the canal requires planning, preparation, extra crew and a fair amount of cash.  The expenses to transit the canal add up quick, which is exactly why we wanted to forgo using an agent. Turns out having no agent is no problem. Money saved, experience gained and knowledge shared!

With our line handlers on board, we’re in full geeky excitement mode.  Transiting the Panama Canal is a major milestone for any cruiser. But, we’re about to change oceans among massive cargo ships, good friends and family.  It doesn’t get any sweeter than this!

sailing with friends to the Panama Canal

About Our Linehandlers – Meet The Crew

A big thanks to Jason’s Mom (Mary), Peter and John (AKA The RV Geeks) for making the trek out to join us.  If you are an RV’er or even a DIY’er you probably already know about The RV Geeks.  If not, you’ll want to check out their website and YouTube channel:  The RV Geeks As for Jason’s Mom, she owns a mineral makeup company based out of Dallas called Mineralogie.  Having friends & family that can set their own schedules is a major bonus for last minute requests such as “Hey, we’re going through the canal in 10 days…wanna come?”

linehandlers for the panama canal

Help Please and Thank You

Before I dive into all the gritty details, I need to ask for your help. We spend an insane amount of time, filming, documenting and creating what you see. Maybe this post will save you $$$ if it gives you the confidence to transit the canal without an agent. If you like our videos and articles, you can help keep the creativity flowing. We’ve listed out all the little (like sharing) and big (join the crew) ways you can help here:
Best part is, most won’t take more than a few seconds of time or cost you a penny. Thank you for being a part of the journey!

Transiting The Panama Canal, No Agent Needed

Tis The Season

The peak season for yachts transiting the canal is January to March.  Around three to nine small boats a day go through.  Our admeasurer’s advice: Avoid peak season if you can for more undivided attention and less stress.  We decided to transit in November.  We literally could have sailed in, got measured and transited the next day.

getting measured for the panama canal

Anchoring vs Marina During Prep For The Transit

The most popular spot seems to be Shelter Bay Marina. Focusing on the transit yacht business, they are the only marina in the area and know the biz, so prices are not cheap. And, everything is a 30-45 minute taxi or bus ride away (at least until the bridge is complete). That said, we’ve heard great things about the owners and no negative feedback.

We prefer being at anchor and the canal has the designated “flats” anchorage that is free.  We stayed there for measuring and the night before our transit. We felt totally safe and there was very little traffic at night.  Other than the occasional pilot boat wake it’s a calm anchorage.  After our canal measurements and prep was complete we sailed back to Linton Bay Anchorage.

If you have boat work to be done before the transit, Linton Bay Marina is only a day sail away, it has a lift and far cheaper slips.

Sailboat Insurance

Boaters insurance is interesting (AKA expensive and complicated). We buy coverage for the areas we plan to travel and read the fine print carefully. As we enter a new country or body of water, we must buy coverage for that area. Insurance prices vary like crazy from boat to boat, sailor to sailor, and of course providers. But, for what it’s worth, we paid an extra $316 to cover us through the canal and add coastal pacific cruising. We will have to re-up again when make the Pacific crossing to French Polynesia.

Want more info on sailboat insurance? Check out this video and post:

Why you might like to have an Agent

Maybe the extra $300-$600 for an agent to manage your transit is in your budget. Maybe you’re in a rush and feel you need the help.  Plenty of people we talked to like their agent and enjoyed having them. But in the end, they didn’t do any less prep than we did.

Why You Don’t Need An Agent

The employees of the Panama Canal Authority all speak excellent English.  They are professional, organized, helpful and kind.
Everything you need to know is outlined clearly in the transit documentation. Not sure about something? Call the phone numbers listed to ask questions. We were blown away by how quickly they answered the phone and how politely they answered all questions. It was all extremely efficient.

Here is the exact document “form 4352-1” with all the instructions and requirements that our admeasurer handed us:

We read a ton of blog posts and cruising guides before making the decision on Panama Canal agents.  We also spoke to fellow cruisers who’d completed the transit with and without an agent.  It’s overwhelming how much fear mongering there is about the canal transit.  In the end you must go with your gut on what’s best for you.  From our experience, we can without a doubt say: Transiting the Panama Canal without and agent was easy and 100% “doable”.

What An Agent Does (That You Can Easily Do because it’s lined out in the document above)

  • Handles registering with the canal.
  • Makes the appointment to have your boat measured.
    • A quick phone call to: Balboa Admeasurement Office at (507) 272‐4571, or the Cristobal Admeasurement Office at (507) 443‐2293.
  • Helps make your payment at the bank (helps arrange a taxi or possibly takes the money to the bank for you, some agents do, some don’t)
    • It’s a quick trip to the only Citibank in either town and its listed in the document 4352-1 linked above (although on the Panama City side it says “Niko’s Plaza” but what they mean is next to Niko’s cafe.  Ask a cab, or a bus, to take you to Niko’s Cafe Balboa, the Citibank is next door.  The phone number for Citi-Balboa listed in the document was incorrect and Google Maps shows multiple listings for Citibank and they’re all the incorrect location…we visited 2 of the wrong listings before finding the actual Citibank in Panama City). There are several ATMs inside Niko’s to get cash (max withdraw was $500).
  • Calls the scheduler for a transit date and time.
    • An easy phone call made after 6pm on the day you pay the bank: (507) 272‐4202
  • Agents can rent you the lines and tires that are required for your transit (for an additional fee).
    • Rent 4 lines (125ft) and fenders (AKA – tires wrapped in plastic), to be delivered from Tito +507-6463-5009 (on the Atlantic side) or Roger +507- 6717-6745 (on the Pacific side). If you have lots of fenders you don’t need to rent tires.  We only have six fenders and didn’t want to risk any damage to the boat, so we rented 8 tires from Tito.  We were told it should be $119 for drop off and collection. Which wasn’t the case, we were expected to pay the guys who dropped them off and picked them up. It was an additional $20 each side.  Also the La Playita marina tried to charge us a dinghy dock fee to drop off the lines.  We said hell no, called Tito and told him to deal with them.  Apparently we could have used our dinghy to meet Tito’s guys and saved the extra fees.  So when Tito tells you your fees include pick up and drop off he means on land, he does NOT pay for the boat to bring lines to you at anchor.
  • Agents can recommend paid line handlers – There must be a minimum of 4 crew plus the captain no matter how small your boat is. Line handlers are $100 per person per day. They will stay on-board with you overnight if you are transiting from the Atlantic side (2 day transit). You will need to provide one night’s board and two days food and beverages for each person.
    • We had family and friends join us but…here is a site for Volunteer Line Handlers (some are fellow sailors wanting to learn the ropes before they transit.  It’s also a good site if you want to volunteer): Many sailors told us having friends or family members on board made the transit much more enjoyable…because there’s a lot of downtime during the canal transit.  They were correct!

Extra Tips and Info

Questions we were asked by the Admeasurer

  • How fast is your vessel? (Anything over 5 knots will do).
  • Do you have a holding tank?
  • Do you have shade for the adviser (a bimini of some sort)?
  • Do you have a horn?
  • What type of engine?
  • Which way do your props rotate?
  • How much fuel do you carry?
  • What’s your Gallons Per Hour (i.e. can you make it through the canal without re-fueling)?
  • Do you have AIS (not a requirement in 2017)?
  • Do you have working navigation lights?
  • Working VHF?
  • Do you have the required fenders & lines? (we told him Tito was bringing the day of the transit, he didn’t need to see them)
  • Do you have 5 crew lined up to be on board (we told him they were flying in before the transit and didn’t request names or their information).

Our Ad Measurer Informed Us

  • We need to provide bottled water and food for our adviser on the day of transit. He does not stay overnight. He will be collected by a pilot boat from Gatun Lake, where we anchor overnight, and join us there again the next morning to complete the trip.
  • We asked about food for the adviser because we’ve read horror stories.  His answer was basic food served in a clean environment, they’re not necessarily too picky about the food, more of the quality and cleanliness of the meal.
  • He warned us that our line handlers must be strong and familiar with tying bowline knots under pressure.
  • We asked about stopping at the Smithsonian island on Gatun Lake.  He said it’s possible but it must be requested in advance and the Panama Canal Authority will charge an additional fee because we’d be “getting out of line”.
  • We asked if not having an agent made more work for him.  He said “no”.
  • We asked about beer/alcoholic beverages in case the adviser asked for one.  He said any canal authority worker on duty should not be drinking.
  • We forgot to ask about getting permission to fly a drone while inside the locks and this is something that has to be requested in advance.

Costs To Transit The Panama Canal

costs to transit panama canal

Because our Catamaran is 43ft, we fall under the 50ft category.  While our total deposit amount paid to the bank was $1875, we did receive our buffer money back for a total of $984 to transit the canal.

Spoiler Alert!

We’re officially on the other side of the Panama Canal and we can honestly say…without a doubt…we made the right decision.  The Panama Canal Prep was easy and even fun.  We loved going through processes (especially because they run things so smoothly), documenting our experiences and sharing them with all of you.  We successfully transited the Panama Canal without an agent.  If we did it, you can too!

If you have any thoughts please share in the comments section below.  If you have a burning questions please ask!  Thanks to each and everyone of you for being a part of the adventure.

Sailing Report

To see our full map with interactive pins, click here: Canal Prep Map

  • Dates: 11/14 – 11/27/2017
  • Cell & WiFi:  We had good cell phone reception here with Clario and MasMovil.

Sailing Specific Gear

Cameras Used to Capture This Video

Full Review Of All Our Camera Gear:


Hello there! I honestly don’t know what to say, so I am going to tell you a bunch of random facts instead. I'm a fish eating vegetarian who hates spiders and loves snakes. I almost never took vacations growing up. I wanted to be Pippi Longstocking (still do). I misspell about every other word I write and still struggle with grammar. I love splurging on a good high tea (which is really hard to find these days). And whatever you do, don’t tell me I can’t do something, because then I'll HAVE to do it!

Comments (33)


    Wow this was in 2017, that’s around the time I got back online and started watching you like in 2018.

    I thought 💭 I got you from the early days on when you bought your boat ⛵️… now I’m not so sure of that .

    Always fun to follow y’all on your next adventure; ) can’t wait 😝 for the new sailboat ⛵️.

  • Eric

    HI, thanks for all the awesome info and videos.. Will be setting of soon, along with my son. Just wanted to reach out and say hello…

  • Jennifer

    We are going through the canal in about 3-4 weeks. We always knew we wanted to do this without an agent. Your video was AWESOME. THANK YOU for this information. We are several months behind you but are doing the coconut milk run. Perhaps we will see you out there? Our boat’s name is Chasing Stars. Best wishes.

  • Not sure what you mean by a ‘good high tea’ but I move around Europe (by air!) quite a lot, and get specialist teas shipped by Dragonfly Tea ( who ship around the world. My favourite is Moroccan Mint flavoured Green tea ( You don’t need drugs, ‘cos this stuff is very addictive!

  • Christine Zarek

    Love your videos. Very fun and informative. A family member of mine was wondering why your videos are months behind? He is very inquisitive that way. Looking forward to more adventures!

  • Thanks for all the info!

    We are soon crossing the Canal and then we will be on our way across to French Polynesia as well 🙂

    Maybe we can be buddy boats, who knows 😀

  • Mike

    Great video again you two. Looking forward to the next one of the actual transit.
    Have fun and stay safe.

  • Danna

    Haha! Looking for where to buy Mary’s makeup and apparently they sell it at my dermatalogist’s office. Will check it out next visit!!

  • Roger B

    Anxious to see if your drone will be allowed to fly the canal with you.

  • mary van

    Just a pack mule…

    Love you guys! It was such a fun time. Wish I was there with you all now.

  • Nancy Fernandez

    Can’t wait to see the transit. Great seeing Mom and RV Geeks onboard. Buenos Noches! ?

  • Alexandre Frossard

    Great video. Excelent information.
    During the past Volvo Ocean Race (2 years ago), one of the boats had a problem when crossing from NZ around cape Horn to Brazil. It then got into the fiords of Ushuaia and headed to Torres del Paine to get serviced. They decided to motor all the way to Brazil trough the fiords and came out in the Atlantic. It shoud be a nice option to cross from Atlantic to Pacific avoiding the Cape Horn. Sorry I don´t have more info about this route. Safe winds!

  • Alan Solomon

    I have never been to the canal but, I am looking forward to seeing you go through it.

    Thank you for the detailed video. Great information for the future. You never know??


  • Brian

    Great Video……….really looking forward to seeing you actually going through the canal. By the way Nikki, love the hats 🙂
    Happy Sailing and thanks for sharing your adventures.

  • Randy Thorne

    I have been anticipating this crossing for what seems to be a very long time, but I have to wait another week? UGH! 🙂
    The glass half full, the glass half empty, Jason the definition of “pessimist” is an optimist with experience, you go brother!.

  • Venice Scherer

    How exciting, can’t wait for your passing video! Nice to meet your Mom and friends!

  • Great vid, guys. Thanks for sharing the details. Wish you good luck for tomorrow and for the whole transit!

  • Scott

    Great video! Can you please remind us what mobile service provider and plan you use for your iPhone?

    • Mike

      Hi Scott
      I’m in Panama right now. Claro has a special going on. The SIM card for your iPhone is $15 dollars for 30 days. That gives you 1500 minutes of local talk time (no long distance but Skype works well)) and 4 GB of data. So far it’s worked just about everywhere in Panama. I think Jason and Nikki are using Claro as well.

  • Not to be critical or anything, but you really need to be more selective about the kind of scurvy dogs you let on that barge. ? Mom excluded, of course. ?

  • Wow I had no idea there that was that much prep involved! Very interesting read and well done for doing it without an agent 🙂

  • Peggy

    You’ve written a wonderful resource for sailors and boaters of all kinds for crossing the Panama Canal! We won’t need it since we’re RVers and only sail vicariously but it was a fun read. Looking forward to watching the video now.


    Excellent background for others who want to transit without an agent.

    A minute of video showing you teaching John & Peter ‘the ropes’ on how to knot the lines might have been fun to watch.

    Looking forward to the next video.

  • Diane Sanderbeck

    Wonderful report! I’m forwarding this to my boating friends so they’ll have all this information. I’m traveling at the moment, but I’ll drop something in the tip jar when I return home. Love y’all!


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